Home News Bob Kendrick, Kerry Yo Nakagawa speak at All-Star DEI panel

Bob Kendrick, Kerry Yo Nakagawa speak at All-Star DEI panel

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SEATTLE — A poster for sale in the gift shop at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City reads, “440 feet is 440 feet no matter what color your skin is.”

It’s an appropriate spot to convey a powerful meaning, Bob Kendrick said, because the Negro Leagues forced the topic of integration not only in baseball but in the country as well.

“[Social progress] does not happen without the Negro Leagues,” said Kendrick, the president of the museum. “And, of course, the great city of Kansas City, who gave America arguably its greatest hero in Jackie Robinson.”

Together, the historians and advocates swapped stories of discrimination and triumph against it that were both heartwarming and heartbreaking during MLB’s hour-long “unfiltered” panel discussion entitled “NLBM & JACL: Baseball: A Historical Perspective.”

While different circumstances united the men on the platform in front of baseball fans from around the country — Kendrick began his movement 30 years ago as a volunteer at the museum; Nakagawa was inspired to make a difference as part of five generations of baseball involvement in his family — their stories often intertwined and paid homage to one another.

Their mission is the same as well: bring awareness and education to the contributions African American and Japanese American players — and really, those of any color — made to the game of baseball.

“I think baseball has always been a healing agent,” Nakagawa said. “It shows you that no matter what faith we belong to, what color our skin, we’re all connected through humanity and through this wonderful game.”

Fans in attendance were treated to lesser-known tales, such as Kendrick’s retelling of how boxing legend Joe Louis got Jackie Robinson into officer school in the military, and Nakagawa’s story of the bond between Shig Takayama and Robinson when the two were teammates at Pasadena Junior College in California in 1937.

As Nakagawa recalled, Pasadena traveled to play San Francisco JC and stopped in Fresno after the game to stay the night. The owner of the hotel refused to let Takayama and Robinson stay in the hotel, so their coach began to hand back the room keys. The man recanted, saying he had a room for the duo after all.

The two players arrived at their room on the top floor of the hotel, which was a small utility closet with two cots shoved into it, barely enough space for both men to fit, with a bare lightbulb hanging overhead.

“I remember Shig telling me, ‘We were both sitting there, and I said, ‘Good night, Jackie,’ and Jackie said, ‘Goodnight Shig,’ and Jackie went to cut the lightbulb light out, and Shig told me that he looked up and he could see the moonlight as Jackie turned, and there were tears coming down his cheek,’” Nakagawa said.

Kendrick and Nakagawa also highlighted some little-known players, such as Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, whose claim to fame was teaching a 15-year-old Roy Campanella to catch, and Kenichi Zenimura, who “built a Field of Dreams everywhere he went.”

The panel wasn’t limited to Black and Japanese players; the men also touched on two Hall of Famers: Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente and Martín Dihigo, the Cuban-born Hall of Famer nicknamed “El Maestro” who’s the only baseball player in history to be inducted into halls of fame in five countries (Mexico, United States, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Cuba).

“The thought that the color of one’s skin can dictate whether or not they can play this game created this misnomer,” Kendrick said. “… Our museum is about dispelling those misnomers, those stereotypes. It’s so prevalent in guiding our mindset about people, and it’s amazing through the lens of these courageous athletes who overcame tremendous social adversity to play the game that they love.

“Our guests walk away with a much deeper, richer appreciation for the true value of diversity, equity and inclusion, and why they were indeed pillars toward building a bridge for tolerance and respect.”

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